Marissa Alexander

A Prayer for Marissa Alexander

Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock

A woman praying. Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock

Jesus, please be with Marissa Alexander today.

You know Marissa, the 32-year-old mother who fired a warning shot in the air to ward off her then-husband who was threatening to abuse her. You know that she tried to claim stand your ground and was denied by State Attorney Angela Corey who said Alexander fired her shot out of anger, not fear. You know that Corey’s office prosecuted George Zimmerman and did not block Zimmerman’s lawyers from embedding the language of the stand your ground statute in his jury’s instructions. You know that Zimmerman was declared not guilty based on that language, while Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison because of 10- to-20-year mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in Florida. 

Racism in the Legal System: Beyond the Quick-Fix Approach

betto rodrigues /

Protestors in San Diego react to the George Zimmerman verdict on July 20, betto rodrigues /

Several years ago, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith criticized the quick-fix approach to racism found in the evangelical race reconciliation movement. They noted that evangelicals tended to address systemic racism through promoting interracial interactions at one-time events such as Promise Keepers rallies. Ironically, this approach tended to increase rather than decrease racism because it gave white evangelicals just enough exposure to people of color to think they now understood race without enough systemic interaction to expose them to the endemic nature of racism. They suggested instead that the preferred response was to engage in political and legal advocacy in order to change the institutional nature of racism. However, what they failed to address in that book is that political and legal approaches to race often suffer from the same quick-fix approach.

Today, we see the same quick-fix dynamics in the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial. Some are focusing again on developing interracial interpersonal relationships, while other evangelical groups have focused on legal advocacy. But in our rush to promote a “solution,” we may end up creating more harm than good. I believe evangelicals have the possibility of addressing racial injustice in a more creative way that could get more closely to the roots of the problem if we took the time to think creatively.

The Color of Justice

Scales of Justice,  tlegend /

Scales of Justice, tlegend /

Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).

If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander — an African American woman from Jacksonville, Fla.?

And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White — an African American man from Long Island, N.Y. — who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).

John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law — his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.

But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?